by Johnnie Belle Reagan
So, they say it is Justice for all, but it isn’t really. It is only the Justice you can afford. Watching some of the court cases it makes you long for the days of the Wild West Cowboy shows where the disputes were settled in the streets, gun to gun… At least in that instance I would feel like Jerry Laza had a chance.
Let me fill you in on something that they are trying to cover up with fresh Anderson County cow patties. When the industrious members of the Palestine City Council turned then City Attorney Ron Stutes on Jerry Laza it was to take his property. What the imbeciles did not realize NOR bother to look into was this. Jerry Laza like the majority of people in this country had a “mortgage”
Then the morons on the Palestine A Team went through all the legal actions spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to steal it and Voila’ the lien holder on the Laza property foreclosed!
Bottom line, they ran Jerry out of money.
Naive as some of us can be about the way the Court of Law is supposed to work and the way it actually does are way different. If you had high hope that you get a fair deal and you get your day in court, I’m afraid to tell you, you don’t and most likely won’t if you are dealing with Municipal Government in Texas after say, 1996. It does not work the way you see it on TV.
“You may beat the rap, but you will not beat the ride”
Their first unfair advantage is unless you are a multi-millionaire, they will out money you on every level. When talking about a Municipality like in the Lawnmower Man, Jerry Laza, case not only will they have unlimited amount of funds they will spend them at leisure unchecked. Deep pockets with absolutely no end. You can say you heard it here; You will never know how much the City of Palestine really spent prosecuting the case. I’m pretty sure they could have just purchased the property outright for less.
Put yourself in Mr. Laza’s shoes for a minute. You are at work, minding your own business and a registered envelope comes with the mailman. You open it and find, in the form of a lawsuit, a 28-page document from the City of Palestine with 11-12 violations on every piece of property you own. Empty lots show to have high grass, rubbish and inoperable cars. Personally, I would have to think it was a joke, well, except for the signature required. The kicker; you have 10 days to bring all the properties into compliance. It just leaves you, as I’m sure Laza was, shaking your head. After all, he had already been to court over most of the violations and the only thing new was rats and pollution. Surely it would be easy to prove you don’t have rats and pollution.
Ordinary people like Mr. Laza are not meant to get this far. First, he should have never been wise enough to figure out that Attorney Ron Stutes never requested permission to file suit for the City of Palestine. And contrary to what Stutes represented in front of the Judge in pre-trial hearings where his authority to file was questioned, the State of Texas does not give him the right to file suit for the City of Palestine. According to the Palestine City Charter, it takes a resolution or ordinances approved by the City Council. There is none. The Civil Case should have stopped there on the “authority” merit alone.
From 2009 until 2016 Mr. Laza’s property around his business had only received the occasional high grass warning that were always complied. There was not a stack of documentation that Laza was a habitual ordinance abuser. It would be fair to assume that since normal channels of Municipal Law jurisdiction had been exercised by the City in the 2006/2007 in several cases that had been found in Laza’s favor, it wouldn’t need to be address again. I mean, after all, through the procedures set by the Palestine City Charter Laza stood accused and found not guilty by a Jury of his peers in Municipal Court.
Here is the thing, Mr. Laza didn’t know that fateful day in April of 2016 that none of those things would matter. That his attempts to reason with the City to hold off for just a little while, his plan was to retire in 2018, fell on deaf ears. Nothing that he could say or do at that point would be good enough to satisfy the Lone Wolf, Ron Stutes, he was on a mission. No law, no rule, no decency, and no humility were going to stop what Ron planned to do.
I recently found a video of a class that Ron Stutes taught to the Texas City Attorney’s Association Members. I’m shocked that Ron Stutes wasn’t hiding out somewhere, but no, he is egotistical and bold. Watching gave me a clear realization of his “plan”. Ron can be heard stating that he was looking for Criminal Activity. He also accuses Laza of having a “Meth Lab”. This is not the first time I have heard that Ron Stutes accused Laza of being involved with drugs. This is just the first time I ever heard it directly for the Jackass’s mouth. Within the same video Ron Stutes takes a jab at the intelligence of the Jury that heard the original cases from 2006 thru 2009. Not only is he mocking the process, he is scoffing at those very same citizens. It is the same tax payer’s money that he billed and was paid by the City of Palestine in the amount of $400,000 for this case.
Ron Stutes took Law Enforcement on Jerry Laza’s property with the intent to search without a warrant. Through Civil Court discovery the Judge allowed Ron Stutes and the City Police Department to search Laza’s property without restraint. While on the property, it has been stated that the City took over 600 pictures. They took pictures of every vehicle identification number (VIN) and every license plate. You need to understand that if Laza could be charged criminally, the City could then just seize Laza’s property under the Civil Forfeiture Law. Not to Ron Stutes delight, nothing was found. No stolen property and no “Meth” by product in the soil samples. And I’m sure not to your surprise no rats were found either. Mr. Laza property and buildings were searched for a total of 8 hours by the City Attorneys and City Law Enforcement.
Hard to believe? It would be if you didn’t know that Ron Stutes had approached City Manager Wendy Ellis in 2014 and before that Ex-Mayor Bob Herrington about either bringing suit or “taking” Laza’s land by eminent domain. Still without proof of a Health and Safety violation, which would have required a finding and an immediate injunction and shut down of the business, in accordance with Texas Local Government Code 54.012, Laza was still found liable in Civil Court and fined a total of $164,000.
In other stories about the case I have written how Ron Stutes filed the suit without authorization of the City of Palestine. Sued under a State Code that had never been adopted into the City of Palestine City Charter. I have mentioned several times that the City Council of Palestine have never voted to approve the lawsuit in open session. They have never discussed the lawsuit in open session. To this day we still don’t know who is overseeing or in charge of the case. Ron Stutes was fired from the City of Palestine in March of 2019 due to losing another case in court that the City Council did not know about.
The case ended in an Injunction and Judgement being given to the City of Palestine. The Jury that decided guilt and fine amount didn’t get to hear any of the above facts. All of the issues about authority were decided by the Judge again in pre-trial hearings. A pre-trial “Motion in Limine” kept the Jury from hearing about the original Court Case found in Laza’s favor. Also, all 100 of Laza’s witnesses to testify that he truly was repairing lawnmowers were not allowed to take the stand. The Jury was bombarded with huge oversized picture after picture of Laza’s property.
(Let’s talk about the “Motion in Limine” for a second. They are traditionally used to keep out unfavorable non-relevant evidence about a defendant in a Criminal Trail. From George Town University: Trials can be won and lost before your trial even begins. A motion in limine is a powerful weapon for advocates that can alter the entire makeup of the case. This type of motion is a pretrial request of the court to rule on the admissibility of a certain piece of evidence. Although these motions can be used to affirmatively admit evidence, the more typical use for a motion in limine is to exclude admission of and any reference to a certain piece of evidence.)
Jerry Laza filed an Appeal in June of 2018. He was financially unable to put up the $164,000 cash bond. His request for the City to wave the need for the bond was denied. Representative for the City at the time Attorney James Hankins and Ron Stutes refused to ask the “client”. So, Laza was unable stop the City from enforcing the Judgement.
On August 2, 2018 Mr. Laza was forced into Bankruptcy protection. On August 3, 2018 the City of Palestine was requesting the District Court to incarcerate Jerry Laza for 7 days. Also, in the same Court Motion the City was appointing a Conservator to lock Laza from his buildings and seize all of Laza belongings and hold them until the Appeal was heard and ruled. Laza’s Appeal has been in the Appellate Court for 575 days or 1 year and 7 months. Image the off-sight cost of the storage on 4 acres of equipment and 2 shops worth of tools and supplies. Word coming back from “the City” was it is the “Judge”. I will inform them that the Judge only ruled and acted upon “motions” placed before him by the City of Palestine representatives appointed by the City Council. Essentially the City Council by proxy requested to have Laza incarcerated for being unable to put up a cash bond that their Attorneys felt was not in the best interest of the City to wave without even asking. I thought the days of debtor’s prison was over. Think again. By allowing the Appeal to run without Laza having to seek protection in Federal Bankruptcy Court, it would have saved thousand of dollars for both sides and there would be a means to an end months ago. Instead again, the Attorneys were allowed to make decisions that put tax funds in their pockets. This seems to be an ongoing theme.
Jerry Laza also has a Civil Rights Violation Case against Attorney Ron Stutes and City of Palestine sitting in Federal Court in Tyler Texas. That case has been stayed also. The insult to injury is speaking with a few of my friends that practice law the Bankruptcy Court will have the final decision if the Appeal and Federal Civil Rights Case proceed.
From the very beginning Jerry Laza disclosed to the City of Palestine during pre-trial discovery that his property had a lien holder. Before Laza was forced to seek emergency protection in Bankruptcy, that lien holder subsequently foreclosed. The City is challenging the Bankruptcy Court for Property they claim they never wanted. Jerry Laza’s Chapter 7 Bankruptcy case that normally rap up in 90 days has been ongoing for 1 year and 6 months. If Laza hadn’t defended his rights, the City of Palestine would have won by default. That is how Civil Case work. Ron Stutes also brags in his video “teaching” other Cities how to file this kind of case that his burden of proof was lowered. I’m sure that is the only way he can win a case. Ironically, he doesn’t mention his numerous errors ignored by the Court.
The Palestine City Council doesn’t even talk about the case anymore. It is a disgrace that when you destroy a working man’s life it doesn’t ever measure high enough on the importance scale to make the City Council Agenda’s for updates. But then again, the updates come from the same snakes. Regardless if the City Council was aware of the actions of their representing Attorneys, they had a responsibility to see that the process was fair and just according to the City Charter. They swear to an Oath of Office. By taking the City Attorneys at face value, the Attorneys were allowed to by pass the checks and balances set forth within the Palestine City Charter. Checks and Balances divided the power. The intent is to prevent the actions of a “Lone Wolf” like Attorney Ron Stutes.
The case is so complicate and convoluted how could you even understand exactly what happened? I truly do not think that anyone in a position to help even cares.
Lawnmower Man, Jerry Laza, finds himself in this situation because he wasn’t wealthy. Unfortunately, Laza wasn’t worth millions. Now that he is representing himself due to lack of funds, he is treading water in vast ocean of unfairness and the sharks are circling.
Want to read more?
Bill at the Palestine Herald points out the specific direction the city is headed